Hello, my name is Yvonne Li and I am currently a fourth year student in Interior Architecture. Early last year I had the privilege to pack up my set squares and scale rulers to head to Europe for a semester at University of Ulster in Belfast.
Studying in a foreign country and embracing a new culture and education system had always been an aspiration of mine and I was lucky enough to be able to be accepted into University of Ulster. Initially, I had had my heart set on studying in Cornell University in New York, however, as there were so many UNSW applicants applying for North America I was suggested to look at European options. In the end I was accepted into University of Ulster in Belfast, Northern Ireland UK, which ended up being a pleasant surprise.
Contrary to what is portrayed of Northern Ireland, I was able to meet some of the friendliest and most welcoming people. Being a much smaller city than Sydney, there was a strong sense of community in Belfast with rich modern history, culture and a growing art and design scene – the Belfast accent is also a bonus. The city is a blend of modern architecture – such as its new contemporary art museum (The MAC) and Titanic Museum – murals about its recent history and the rolling green hills of Ireland. Belfast is also bustling with live music on the streets and in pubs, the never ending around of thrift stores and markets.
University of Ulster is currently in the process of moving their entire campus into Belfast city centre and, luckily, the fine arts and design departments had already been moved so I was able to go into the city for classes while experiencing the campus dorm life back in the main campus (which was about 15-20min bus ride out of Belfast). Travelling into the city meant I was constantly aware of cultural events and markets that were going on. By the end of the semester, I knew Belfast better than some of the locals! Dorm life was a great experience, I met plenty of local and international friends and the staff that looked after the exchange students organised weekend road trips to see Northern Ireland’s tourist sites.
I was enrolled in the Bachelor of Interior Design 2nd year (as it was only a three year degree) studying their studio course and an equivalent of our history and theory course. Being quite a new course, the cohort is quite small of 15. The tutors and course conveners worked really closely with the students to get to know each ones’ progress and designs which fostered a professional dialogue between tutors and students. We were also offered to go on a design trip to London for week to experience the design and architecture there while the local students were working back on their previous projects from last year.
The studio course is not run too differently to how it is run in UNSW but they did use different types of programs (ArchiCAD), which took a while to adapt to. The FBE department also had a similar version of the FAB lab at UNSW but with the addition of woodwork and metal work machinery available for students to use. Each cohort were also given their own area which included storage space for the students to store work and materials in which turned out to be quite convenient. The history and theory course I took overlapped with architecture students as well. It was interesting seeing different interpretations of architectural theory and history by architecture and interior students. The most challenging thing about the studying in University of Ulster was probably understanding the Irish accent because there are so many variations depending on locality. Going in as a 3rd year student in 2nd year courses meant I did have slightly more technical skills than the local students but the design projects were still as challenging especially when being given significant heritage sites.
Being in Europe for the first time, I took this opportunity to travel as much as I could. During the Easter break, I joined the rock climbing club at Ulster on a trip to the south of Spain to climb and hike up Spanish Mountains. A few of my friends and I also took the opportunity to go down to visit Morocco. The trip to Morocco was one of the most memorable, breath-taking trips of my exchange. As the semester was ending I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin. After the semester in Ulster has ended, I took a month and a half travelling around various countries and cities in Europe, experiencing a wide range of cultures, eating different traditional cuisines, meeting fellow travellers and befriending locals. I was also able to be inspired by the local art and architecture. Memorable moments included hiking up to swim in a waterfall near Chefchaouen in Morocco, rock climbing in Spain, sailing the Croatian Islands, walking down the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, climbing to the peak of Mount Vesuvius, eating the best pizza ever in Naples, walking along the Southbank in London, visiting a concentration camp near Berlin, walking through the catacombs underneath Paris and countless others.
6 months aboard as an exchange student and traveller really broadened my perspective on design, architecture and even life. It definitely had its hardships but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
If you have further questions about exchange or my experiences please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org